Rehabilitation, Brainwashing and Terrorism

Several years ago I was one of two speakers at a government workshop on methods for threat anticipation using social complexity theories. One of the interesting nuggets my co-speaker mentioned was that it takes two years to brainwash a person.

Apparently two years is about the time it takes to physically rewire the brain to think in a particular way without needing external reinforcement. By the way, this is also about the same time one needs to gain fluency in a new language. We also know that it takes a minimum of  three weeks of constant repetition to make any action into a habit however it needs continuous reinforcement to stick (think of Marine boot camp). 

Saudi Arabia has a rehabilitation program for ex-Guantanamo bay prisoners and others who have been captured and classified as militant jihadists. It is supposed to provide a place where people are taught “correct” Islam and provides a step towards social integration into normal life.  9 of the 218 attendees (109 from Gitmo) have been re-arrested, with two more rather infamous (ex-gitmo 333 and 372) as they have surfaced as heads of Yemen terror cells. The government claims the program is still successful and there is no reason to doubt them except for the issue of program length.

Is the rehab program long enough? We know as a fact that it is shorter than 1 year as prisoner 372 was released from Guantanamo in 2007, released from rehab and plotting attacks in Yemen by September 2008. Even if we ignore the theories on time to brainwash/program/deprogram people, common sense prods us towards longer rehab.

After captivity in cages for four/five/six years everyone who was taken to Gitmo, whether already a militant or not, is certainly going to come out as a potential militant. Several of them have mental illnesses caused by the conditions of their imprisonment. The Saudi rehabilitation program has to reverse the effects of both the hatred of Al-Qaeda and the inhumanity of the US government.

This uphill task requires intense psychological treatments, longer deprogramming, extended rehab and a phased approach to release. Integration into society should be gradual with support groups provided for the person released as well as for the family. Vocational training needs to be provided as well as job placement. Society has to recognize that they all have a responsibility towards rehab of militants, not just the government.

Yemen is planning on starting a similar program that will be funded by the US. Let us see how they fare.

4 Responses

  1. Good post, Ruhsa. It’s a shame that all those wasted years spent in Gitmo weren’t served more constructively. I’m glad to see that Pres. Obama has ordered that Gitmo be closed within a year, but the hatred all those hostages must feel toward the US runs very deep at this point. I can’t really blame them for feeling the way they do.

  2. […] length – this was covered in my previous post on the […]

  3. susie: Gitmo was such an unfortunate decision made by Bush. It has GUARANTEED that everyone who was arrested and released is now a wanna-be-militant. Every family that had someone arrested will provide the next generation of fighters. The numbers of ex-gitmo prisoners who have been arrested in Pakistan is quite high. The ones who came back are almost like heroes and are the leaders for current conflicts.

  4. […] length – this was covered in my previous post on the […]

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